Guatemala, An Intense Experience. In Squash, in life.

We thought it was a sure thing, almost no one signed up to this tournament. We could do really well, of course we should go! The 3 amigos from Canada signed up for the Guatemala 5k and arrived together on Halloween night. The first day of qualifying was already finished and we were in eager anticipation of our first match in the main round. Due to lack of players, all 3 of us made it straight into the main round while the qualification filled up with local players. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they were “locals”, they knew how to play, and being perfectly climatized they had no problem enduring through a long match.

We arrived at the club in the morning. The complex was massive and in a rather strange neighborhood. On google maps, the Dolphine Club seems like it takes up an entire block and is surrounded by a million tiny homes. Me and my fellow Canadians, Cory and Thomas, hit the ball around and got used to the courts. The courts were quick and the altitude was deadly making for a difficult mental and physical challenge when the rallies were extended. After our morning hit we fuelled up on whatever we could get at the club, eating mainly small sandwiches with some questionable produce and meat. It was ill-advised to venture out into this area to look for food, especially when you look foreign. With food and water in our bellies, we lay down and slept for awhile, then watched the last round of qualifying.

Guatemala City

Around the 2nd or 3rd match, one of the three musketeers had mysteriously disappeared. Thomas was nowhere to be found. I remembered he had mentioned that he was having trouble with a headache earlier that day. I then received a text: “Josh, can you bring me some water, I’m in the bathroom throwing up, my lips are blue, I am shaking.” And… the first man bites the dust.

We made it back to the hotel okay, the shuttle driver was a pleasant fellow. Thomas lay on the bathroom floor, ensuring us he would be okay. Cory and I Uber’d to the nearest mall to find some food. Somewhat fearful of this mysterious illness I opted for pizza and a bottled water. Cory had some pasta and an iced tea. My bottled water was frozen, which didn’t allow me to pour it into my chilled glass with ice. Cory’s beverage came chilled and on ice.

Back at the hotel, we found Thomas asleep in bed. Cory and I laid our heads down to rest for tomorrow’s match, we were actually playing each other. I was then awoken by a horrific sound. It was 3 am and I realized that it was not Thomas in the bathroom anymore. The second man bites the dust… I felt a shot of adrenaline course through my body. Was I next?

Day 2 begins. Maybe it was the ice for Cory? Maybe it was the water Thomas drank at the club? We are still unsure. With little sleep and little energy, we awoke to take the 11 AM shuttle. I was still in good health, my friends were not, and we soon learned there were others in the tournament who had been claimed by this illness. Cory and Thomas tried to regain their strength for their matches. Cory warned me before we went on court, “watch out man, I’m ten pounds lighter now, I’m gonna be floating around on court”. They remained in good spirits, but unfortunately, their efforts to rally proved to be futile. Cory and my match lasted 20 minutes and sadly, Thomas could only manage 11, the shortest match I’ve ever heard of. Well done to both of them for getting on court though!

The facility at the Delphine Club. Notice the top half of the squash courts on the second floor.

Now very fearful, I tried to avoid any local food and stay safe. I ate pizza, granola bars, almond butter on bread and bottled water. None of which I would usually eat, but I figured I’d rather gain a few pounds rather than lose 15… Unfortunately, I awoke that night around 11 PM to find my stomach was a bit off. From that point it came on fast and furious, I slept in the washroom that night, spending most of the time focusing desperately on staying poised. Cory gave me a bit of medicine as well. I knew if I was going to compete at all I would have to seriously fight this thing. I lay on the bathroom floor, praying that I would feel better, that I would somehow be made well.

To my surprise, the next day I was able to resist the nausea and other symptoms, although I was still unable to eat. Cory and Thomas were feeling better so I was hopeful I would be able to rally and compete. I got on the court for a practice hit around 12 PM. It was a strange sensation to wield a racket which felt like it had gained 10 pounds. Despite the weakness, I still felt able to move around and hit the ball.

I tried my best to get some fuel in me, running off a brownie power bar and some Gatorade. I stepped on the court for my match. I was playing a young local from Guatemala who had managed to avoid the sickness, he kept the pace high, possibly sensing my weakness. The games were close. With every fiber of my being, I tried to stay in the rallies, stay with his pace, take the ball early and win. I lost a close 3 game match, 11-9, 11-3, 11-9. The match lasted about 40 minutes and felt like 3 hours. There were times where I started to lose my sight and nearly passed out. Cory later told me that he had trouble cheering me on due to the fact that it looked so painful. I was bleach-white with black bags under my eyes.

I decided to cut the trip short and come home a few days early. So I am sitting in the airport now, on the recovery. My friends have gone to Antigua to see the volcanos and Mayan ruins. This has been the most intense journey of my squash career so far. Many lessons learned. My advice if you are going to central America is this: ONLY drink bottled water, find something that agrees with your stomach and stick to it, care for your friends and watch out for them, and most of all do your best to stay in good spirits – it was the laughter and fellowship that kept us going.

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